There is a topic I’ve had on my mind for a couple of months now that I have been debating how to form into a post. This semester I am taking a class called Natural Environments, Wellness and Health at university. It is taught by a prof that I had during Running Tunisia who was extremely helpful in re-arranging my exam schedule in order for me to be in Africa. Later, her daughter Emma was chosen for Expedition India and I had the pleasure of watching Emma strive under the incredible physical feat of nearly a marathon a day (with an ultra smack dab in the middle!).
Janice is one of the most dynamic profs I’ve ever had, frequently acting out the aggressive charge of a grizzly bear and telling stories about her vast experience in the outdoors.
In this class, much like the name suggests, we have been studying how natural environments, like parks, lakes, mountains, and trail systems for example play into human health and wellness and the material has had me reflecting.
Since before I was even born my family has been into outdoor pursuits. We camped, canoed, kayaked, hiked, biked, skied; you name it, we did it. Heck we even have a photo of my family canoeing, complete with me in my mum’s tummy. And while we were always environmentally conscious – practicing no trace camping, never leaving our campfire smouldering, respecting wildlife – I’d never reflected on how our physical activity, specifically running, hiking and mountain biking, impacted the environment before this class. Don’t get me wrong I knew what human activity could do especially those who left their garbage etc, but I had always thought of our family as environmentally friendly enough that we didn’t have an effect.
As a avid hiker, trail runner and mountain biker living a stone’s throw away from the Canadian Rocky Mountains, I get on ‘mountain time’ every chance I can. I think I’ve been in the mountains more weekends since I got back to Calgary two months ago than I have stayed in the city! But this topic has been weighing on my mind lately in a big way. You see as much as I’d like to think that I’m environmentally friendly by respecting wild life and packing out my garbage, the truth is that I’m invading areas every time I’m out there that otherwise would have been peaceful. Whether or not I see a bear or cougar, or even squirrel or pica for that matter, I’m trespassing in their home. The trails that have been used by thousands of human feet and over the years and have become highways were once for four legged creatures only. Each time I step off the path to have a pee (which we all know is about 47 times per hike) I am ‘ruining’ some untouched forest, crushing small plants, disturbing the moss and frightening the small creatures.
Another factor is that each time I go out there I use my car, which while is pretty good on gas is still emitting fossil fuels. While I’ve always said I would prefer to live IN the mountains rather that NEAR the mountains, even in towns like Canmore, Banff and Whistler you need to use a vehicle to access most trails.
I really haven’t come to any conclusions, and I’m not going to go off on some rant about how horrible humans are. But I’m thinking about it. A lot. I guess right now I should just be grateful that there is still wilderness to explore, still wildlife to admire.
Perhaps eventually my reflection will lead me somewhere, to some wildly spiritual conclusion. But for now, what do you think? Is there a place for human physical activity in the wilderness? Are the obvious human benefits more important that the negative effect on the wildlife? Are there ways for humans and wilderness to both be sustained? If you have any insight, please leave it in the comments! I am having trouble forming conclusions of my own and would love to hear how others have (or have not) made peace with this issue.